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  • Enzymes: Beyond Digestion

    Enzymes aren’t just vital for digestion—they’re important for the function of every cell in the body. In order to maintain balance in the structure and function of cells, tissues and organ systems, there are millions of metabolic enzyme reactions happening in your body.

    Where do enzymes come from? Enzymes are proteins made by the pancreas, liver, gall bladder and other organs—as well as by every living cell—to enable biochemical reactions. Digestive enzymes are particularly important because they break down food (including protein, fat and carbohydrates), a process that in turn provides energy to the body. Digestive enzymes are made primarily in the pancreas.

    Enzymes are also available in raw foods in our diet (but once foods have been heated/cooked or processed, the enzymes become damaged and unavailable for assisting digestion of that food). Pineapple enzymes (known as bromelain) and papaya enzymes (papain) are two highly concentrated raw sources of enzymes that can be especially helpful, and both are commonly sold in supplements.

    You may also want to supplement if you’re experiencing symptoms such as painful digestion, gas/bloating, heartburn and diarrhea/constipation. Supplementing with plant-based digestive enzymes can also increase the body’s capacity to produce other systemic, inflammation-fighting enzymes—more on that below.

    Digestive Enzymes to try:
    Digest Gold from Enzymedica
    Integrative Therapeutics’ Similase
    Rainbow Light’s Advanced Enzyme System
    Papaya Enzymes from Pharmaca and Zand

    The digestive tract isn’t the only place our body uses enzyme reactions, however. Systemic (also known as proteolytic or metabolic) enzymes can help break down inflammation in the body. Inflammation is mediated by the immune system and is a natural and necessary response in every cell of the body. However, higher levels of inflammation have been associated with aging and it’s important to maintain a healthy inflammation response.

    Enzymes can help decrease inflammation in different bodily systems (e.g. joints, heart, lungs, blood, immune, breasts, prostate, skin), and supplementation with systemic enzymes can help with aches, pains and muscle soreness from everyday activity. Experts believe that systemic enzymes can also help cleanse blood of foreign invaders such as viruses, therefore strengthening the immune system as well as breaking down scar tissue in the body.

    Are digestive and systemic enzymes one in the same? It’s believed that enzymes are utilized differently when taken at different times. When enzymes are taken with a full stomach, for example, they will work on digesting food. If taken on an empty stomach, they can help break down other proteins in the body, such as those causing inflammation.

    But supplement forms of digestive and systemic enzymes generally contain different levels of enzyme activity to accomplish what’s desired. Though you may see some positive benefits by taking a high-quality digestive enzyme on an empty stomach, it won’t generally have the same effect as taking a formula that is optimized for systemic use.

    Systemic enzymes to try:

    Wobenzym from Garden of Life
    Bromelain from Jarrow Formulas or Pharmaca
    Enzymedica’s SerraGold (helps improve circulation, speed tissue repair, alleviate joint discomfort, support heart health and relieve respiratory complaints)
    Enzymedica’s Natto-K (to support circulation)
    Enzymedica’s ViraStop (to help breakdown toxins and debris in blood)

    Ultimately, the body is designed to make the digestive and metabolic enzymes we need. But just like many other bodily functions, this process slows as we age. By supplementing with digestive enzymes the body can focus on making metabolic enzymes—the “energy of life” needed to forge every biochemical reaction in the body.

  • Simple Steps to Healthy Aging

    AgingSupport the healthy aging process with nutrition and supplements that can help keep your bones strong, your heart healthy and your mind sharp. We spoke with Karen Carleton, naturopathic doctor at our Portland store, about some of the things we should be thinking about as we age.

    Inflammation is the source of so many of our health complaints,” says Karen. “We all have a certain amount of inflammation, and as we age, that increases.” To combat inflammation, she recommends turmeric, which is not only good for reducing inflammation, but also good for brain health. New Chapter’s Zyflamend incorporates turmeric, and can be beneficial for your blood vessels and joint health as well.

    Enzymes are another key inflammation fighter. “If you take them with food it’s going to work more on digestion,” says Karen. “But taken away from food, it works systemically on whole body inflammation.” Wobenzym-N, from Garden of Life, is especially good for systemic inflammation, she says, and she often recommends it for aches and pains, like knee and hip joint pain. She adds that depending on your needs, you can continue to up your dosage and it’s still quite safe.

    Of course, good digestive health is important, too. In this vein, Karen recommends a high-quality, well-made probiotic like Dr. Ohirra’s or Pharmax HLC. “They support the immune system, boost digestive health and support good nutrition,” she says.

    “Another thing that comes to mind as far as anti-aging is a good antioxidant,” says Karen. Look for anything with dark blue, red and purple pigments, like Natural Factors’ BlueRich Blueberry Concentrate. Or look for products that contain trans-resveratrol, she says, like Reserveage Organics Resveratrol, which in studies has been shown to produce a marked reduction in signs of aging, including greater motor coordination, preserved bone strength and reduced cataract formation.

    Bone strength is another important factor in aging. “Calcium-rich food is always the best place to start,” says Karen, but don’t forget about weight-bearing exercise. “Without it you’re not going to build bone.” Even walking helps give that message to your bones that they need to continue being strong, she says. As far as supplements, Karen recommends New Chapter’s Bone Strength Take Care. “It’s plant-based calcium, with small molecules that are easy to digest, and the formula itself has vitamins and minerals that are also important for building bones like vitamins D and K.”

    Finally, Karen says, make sure you’re getting essential fatty acids like DHA, which are vital for reducing inflammation, boosting cognitive health, heart health and more. She recommends Nordic Naturals’ DHA, from fish oil, or Bluebonnet’s Vegetarian DHA, from algae.

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